One More Thing

I found this amusing/disheartening. Perkins and Salomon’s work from the eighties is widely cited in the growing literature on writing transfer, so my attention was piqued by one mention of writing in their 2012 Educational Psychologist article, “Knowledge to Go: A Motivational and Dispositional View of Transfer.” This quotation is admittedly out of context:

Bereiter (1995) emphasized several areas where for most learners transfer occurs so routinely and reliably that no one studies it as transfer—reading, writing, routine arithmetic skills, and the use of prior knowledge for further learning building directly on the same ideas.

Writing is so routine and reliably tranferrable that no one studies it as transfer. What a relief to have that settled!

P. S. It’s actually a good article worth a read.

Identity in Yancey, Robertson, & Taczak

Though this comes a bit late, I wanted to post some of my notes on identity in Yancey, Robertson, & Taczak’s Writing across Contexts. Revisiting the whole book through identity helped me see connections to related terms, some more direct than others:

  • The recurring “composing passport” metaphor resonates with McCarthy’s idea of students as “strangers in a strange land” when they go from course to course. The metaphor suggests nationality and a connection between identity and place. A conceptual language for writing seems to act as the “passport,” which evokes a further connection between identity, place, movement, and language (76, 82).
  • Personal style seems tied to identity, and “negative” or “zero” transfer can happen when a student’s personal style conflicts with the genre or an instructor’s values. Students can also see FYC/writing instruction as infringing on their personal style (24, 26).
  • Students may identify (or not) as good writers, bad writers, science writers, etc., which affects transfer (95, 107).
  • Students who adopt a novice “stance” or “mindset” may be more open to learning and transfer. This stance could be seen as a kind of identity, along with Reiff and Bawarshi’s boundary crossers/guarders (39, 125).
  • Framing seems tied to identity. As part of his personal approach and disciplinary orietnation, Rick “used the frame of science as a way to understand writing and look for patterns that would cross both fields of activity” (96).
  • Yancey, Robertson, & Taczak call for more research into how students’ “culture, major, and the intellectual tradition it represents” affect their use of prior knowledge; these can all be understood as identity factors (128). They also ask how their TFT pedagogy “could be adapted to support differing populations of students” (146).

Course reflection two: Content issues

To follow up on my teacherly post, here’s what I’m thinking about research-wise at the end of the semester. List format for expediency, and I’m keeping it limited to three:

Definitions of transfer: I entered the semester with this on my radar (the transfer metaphors continuum we talk about often). Since then, we’ve also talked about the different ways transfer is conceptualized in other fields (hat tips: Dan, Nawwaf, Mary) and the variations in talk abouttransfer for students, faculty, and other stakeholders (Jeff, Beth, John). So we need to think about the ways we’re defining transfer in our research, and we need to be careful about the language we use, especially when hoping to understand how other fields think about transfer. As Doug Brent wrote, “what a difference a change in one word makes in the sense of what is happening here.”

For both WAC and transfer research, understanding and differentiating both individual and contextual influences (and perhaps task-oriented influences too, if you want to differentiate them from context). We saw this in Yancey, Robertson, & Taczak, Driscoll & Wells, Read, and many other sources (Sam’s work on collaboration). When learning about writing and/or writing transfer happens, or fails to happen, how do we (indeed, can we) determine if the causes and effects lie with individually based factors like dispositions, specific prior knowledge, attitudes, or more contextually based factors like availability of mentoring, spaces and time frames which allow reflection, or resources for training? When contexts are complex and/or multiple contexts are engaged by definition (thinking of Patrick, Jeff, and Sherri’s work here) these questions are even more important.

Finally, here are three tweets I shared with Beth:

Neil and I talked yesterday about the many times we’ve seen interventions — or lack thereof — make huge differences. One suggestion from a mentor supports a breakthrough. Or a missed deadline means a missed exam then a failed class. Sometimes it seems very random indeed.

This might be called the “tipping point” problem: how very small things can make a very big difference for transfer. I know I’ve said this in class: how different Mitchell’s story might have been if IRB problems hadn’t derailed the practicum course he was in. Or the ways Sophia’s first job set her up for success thanks to a mentor who was not only very experienced but across the hall and willing to help. I’m not sure research can confront this problem directly, but I think we have to consider it at some level.

What’s on your minds going forward?

Course reflection one: structure + pedagogy

As we wind down, I want to reflect on the semester and ask that you do the same. In this first post, I want to highlight the ways I’ve organized the course, encouraged our conversations, and facilitated your research. And here’s a second post which speaks more to content—what I’m thinking about in terms of WAC+Transfer as I look forward to my continued research.

I thought our in-class conversations improved steadily throughout the semester as we built background knowledge and gained a common vocabulary to talk about WAC and transfer. It also helped, more than I expected, that I learned about the many relevant projects you all were already engaged in at Purdue. I think our ability to integrate your other work into our conversations, however limited, helped us make connections between the material and our own research and teaching.

Your semester projects are great. I’m very pleased with the diversity, both the form and the content. I think the not-seminar-paper structure is working very well. You all cover a wide range of material in WAC and transfer, across diverse areas of our field, and even reaching into other disciplines. I’m seeing the interesting beginnings of bridges between fields, both in the abstract (for example, exploring the ways two disciplines relate) and tied to local contexts at Purdue. I’m also seeing lots of conversation which is looking forward to future work, and that’s the goal, so I’m excited not only about this semester but hoping I can help you all in the future.

The jury is still out on the Explainer projects, but only because I haven’t seen a lot of concrete drafts yet. Those I’ve reviewed are very impressive. My conversations at CCCC confirm my desire to push this sort of project forward future, perhaps in partnership with other universities. I’m thinking not only of more content-related issues, but specifics in terms of delivery, conceptualizing audiences, developing processes. (Maybe I need a third post to talk about this.)

I hope my comments on your projects and other work helped you think about the issues at work in both your projects. I worked pretty hard to make sure it was timely and I tried to use my notes from class to understand your work in its complexity (how you developed more group-based ideas from class into larger projects). If you thought my commentary on work was (not) helpful, I’d like to hear more in evaluations.

I see three big things to fix. First and foremost, I wasn’t able to finish my course prep before the semester. I know this was, at best, inconvenient, and at worst, restricted your ability to read on your own schedule. This was simply a time issue on my part, having a full plate in my first year. I’m already working on courses for next fall and spring, so this won’t happen again.

Secondly, some of you got behind on the reading for your semester projects. I will be seeking ways in the future to ensure that doesn’t happen. I elected to keep individual work minimal during the semester, for simplicity’s sake, but may change that in the future. (Remember the elevator pitches we did? For example, asking you to return to those, and making them more a part of the course stream). I’m also thinking about more one-on-one conversations with you, more structure to the periodic check-ins we’ve done. Those of you who sought my help. (As I tweeted last week, getting better at drawing lines between letting you all self-select for help from me, and asking you to sit down to talk through your work.)

Obviously, I didn’t figure out how to manage a blog space with y’all. Again, part of the issue is the line between posting (pushing conversation forward) and inviting you to post (allowing you all to develop the focus of the space). In retrospect, I should have written more. I have the least amount of ideas about this, but the most time to figure it out. Here’s another place that a more individualized curation model might help in the future: asking teams nurture conversations over specific time or topics frameworks. I’m mindful of workload, but have had tremendous success in the past, so I’m hoping to hear from you all here too.

Finally, one more reminder that I hope you will take the time to complete a course evaluation before the end of the semester. I’m sure you’re getting the emails and you know how important these are, even though they can be flawed instruments. I thank you in advance for taking a few minutes to give me some helpful feedback there, and I invite you to share your thoughts below as well. I’m particularly interested in hearing your thoughts on the course assignments—their highlights for you and the ways I can make them more successful in the future.

Identity and Transfer

As I was reading through previous articles in our course, namely DePalma & Ringer, “Adaptive Transfer,” James, “An investigation of learning transfer in EGAP” Lancaster, “Making Stance Explicit,” McLeod, “WAC second stage,” and Williams & Takaku, “Help seeking, self-efficacy, and writing performance among college students”, I came several instances in which identity was either directly sated or alluded to. In the following I will try to list these instances.

  • In McLeod’s piece, though identity was not the focus, identity was alluded to toward the end of the article where McLeod brought the issue of faculty resistance to the changes imposed by WAC: “Finally, there is an issue not dealt with directly by my survey, but which has come up in anecdotal comments at the meetings of the National Network of Writing Across the Curriculum Programs and which deserves further study-the matter of change and faculty resistance to it. The idea and the practice of writing to learn goes against the predominant paradigm of education in the university, which valorizes the teacher-centered lecture class. In this paradigm, students are passive rather than active learners; they learn from the expert, not from each other” (343). The identity issue that seems to surface here is the one assigned to students as passive individuals by traditional teacher-centered approaches. I can sense in this quote that McLeod touched upon a significant shift in the way students were perceived as WAC programs were beginning to increase.
  • In DePalma & Ringer’s adaptive transfer article, identity issues appeared as one of the main points that the article discussed. In fact, identity is discussed as one important aspect of the definition of concept of adaptive transfer. Two important instances are worth mentioning here. First, in their definition of adaptive transfer processes, DePalma and Ringer used the term idiosyncratic to describe learners’ transfer as being “particular to individual learners and influenced by factors such as language repertoire, race, class, gender, educational history, social setting, genre knowledge, and so forth” (44). They also emphasized the significance of students’ agency with regard to transfer especially when they are multilingual. The second instance, among others of course, is their discussion of the French student Julie from Ilona Leki’s research who “resisted her teacher’s guidelines and abandoned the organizational structure that had served her so well” (51). As cited in the article, Julie relied in her previous training in her native language, French, and to negotiate the new rhetorical situations that she encountered in her new context.
  • In Lancaster’ Making Stance Explicit, identity seemed to be equated with the second language learners’ ability to express their own stance. Generally speaking, in this piece Lancaster states that it is challenging to express authorial stance for both ESL and native speakers’ student writers. He defines stance as “the ways that writers—as they go about analyzing and evaluating things, making assertions and recommendations, providing evidence and justifications and so forth—project an authorial presence in their texts, one that conveys attitudes and feelings and that interacts with the imagined readers by recognizing their views, identifying points of shared knowledge, conceding limitations, and otherwise positioning them as aligned with or resistant to the view being advanced in the text” (273). The point to be emphasized in this definition is the expression of authorial presence which it seems to me it ties with identity. Throughout the paper Lancaster conducted a linguistic analysis to account for the ways students’ express their authorial presence to help teacher from other disciplines teach the concept of stance.
  • In Williams and Takaku’s piece, identity appears as they discuss the link between students’ self-efficacy and writing performance. Because the study was mainly quantitative, it was difficult to discern instances where identity appears. It was not until the discussion where the authors brought up the issue of students’ cultural background as an explanation for why international students seemed to have lower level of sefl-efficacy.

Call-Out for ANSC 311 WAC Coordinator

Hey, folks. So I hear you’re all interested in WAC.

Well, do I have a great opportunity for you to gain some great professional development in WAC while earning a few $$.

As many of you may already know, the Writing Lab has a WAC collaboration with ANSC 311 in which two WAC Coordinators assist the class with their written assignments. While Writing Lab tutors have been WAC Coordinators, the position is open to other graduate students who are not tutors.

Overall, the WAC Coordinators are responsible for assisting ANSC 311 students with two letters, one annotation, two memos, and one beef simulation report. The Coordinators give three lectures on these assignments throughout the semester as well as two WAC nights in the Writing Lab that offer additional writing support. In addition, the Coordinators also grade these assignments and give feedback to students. Coordinators are paid for their time giving lectures and grading and the rate is $13 per hour.  In addition to the money, this is a great professional development opportunity and past WAC Coordinators have developed research projects out of the position.

Coordinators are also free the have the position as long as they like. The only request is that you stay in the position for at least two semesters and that you find your replacement before you leave. Right now, Ellery and I are the WAC Coordinators for the course and we’re trying to create a structure similar to the ICaP Tech Mentor positions in which one person trains the other. This semester, Ellery trained me and we’re looking for his replacement for the fall. So, if you’re interested in the position or know of someone who might be, please let me know! I’m happy to answer any additional questions you might have about this position.

Go WAC!

Happy Transfer Teaching Moment

I’ve been reading through the final drafts of my students’ patient educational materials project that I assign in ENGL 42201. In addition to producing a genre of their choice that conveys information about a health condition of interest to them to a specific lay audience, I also asked my students to write a reflective memo responding to the following prompt:

“Finally, you will submit with your final draft a one page, single-spaced Reflective Memo in which you describe the chosen illness your patient education materials product focuses on, the audience you’re choosing to write to, your rhetorical decisions behind the product’s overall design, and how you’ve included an attention to universal design. The space of this memo is where you describe to me the writing and design process of your document, what you set out to achieve, what you were able to accomplish, what obstacles you faced and why—basically, what you think is important for me to know as I read and assess your final document.”

Here is the beginning of one of my student’s memos:

“This memo provides information on why I chose a certain illness and how I designed this patient education material targeting a certain audience. Because I am majoring in Pharmaceutical Sciences, I thought congestive heart failure (CHF) would be a good topic for my patient education material since I recently learned about this topic in one of my courses. I believe creating this education material will help enforce what I learned in my drug mechanisms class and I can apply what I learned in our medical writing course to present CHF in a way that is easy to understand to my target audience.”

Although the prompt of the memo could be re-written to contain more explicit wording cuing transfer, I was happy nonetheless to see my student making connections across courses through this project. Yay!